This piece is a follow up to a decade-long pondering and THIS original blog post i wrote way back when. I was terrified to broach the topic before writing that post, so became quiet about it in the years since, feeling the weight of taboo in bringing it up. But it’s something i’ve had many a conversation with friends about, so wanted to share some learning moments and curiosities with you, in the hope to keep the conversation going.
I have had my fair share of copycats over the years.
Just some examples of their repertoire includes: Plagiarising things i’ve published from my Digest, my blog, social media, marketing and my public events. They have lifted pages of text and passed it off as their own. Created fake social media accounts to track my every move, only to replay them with creepy similarity. I’ve had friends who’ve had super weird experiences too, for example one whose baby snaps have been copied and used as props by someone else, in an attempt to pass them off as their own child. I mean…yikes.
The number of times a friendly stranger’s “fancy going for a coffee?” has turned into an full blown interrogation featuring a notebook and rounds of direct and intimate questions in quick succession, demanding details of how i’ve done what i’ve done, what back end processes i’ve created, what tools i use, how much i get paid, who i have spoken to/studied with/am friends with, how i’ve managed to get a particular project running, followed by an indignant and accussationary “you’re doing everything i want to do!” statement, often tinged with a tone that makes it clear that they are annoyed how someone like me could have the audacity to create this life for myself when they feel more deserving. More entitled. Which is always disconcerting because we all know that you can’t tell what journey someone has been on, or what they are going through and have had to go through to get there.
Soon enough after our “meeting”/interview, comes the single white female moments played out in creepy synchronicity. They have what they wanted and then: the ghosting. Keeping an eye on me from afar, but treating me as a competitor despite building their stuff on and off my back.
Inspiration vs Imitation
Yes i hear you “is anything ever pure and uncopied?! All ideas are recycled! It’s your ego that’s the problem!” folks.
But there’s a difference between inspiration and imitation. For example, many of my students were inspired to become yoga teachers and i’ve happily helped and mentored them to do so and will continue. I regularly receive mails asking for help/advice/support enquiring how i’ve managed to do what i do, be it coaching, running workshops and retreats, working internationally, being from a working class background and working in industries deemed, well, abundant with glass ceilings, and so on.
I'm always really keen to help and encourage people to find their own voice and form of expression. Hence why, after years of supporting people for free 1-1, it was taking most of my time in the week, so i created my creative coaching programmes, which is the perfect way to support people to get to where they want to go giving them time, attention and full my support. They get to pick my brains and i share ideas and learning moments, tools and tips, but also offer them perspective that’s relevant to their own life, which we explore together.
Why bother then, to write about the issue of copycats?
Cause i know it’s something that doesn’t just affect me. And, well, because it hurts, and i know how paralysed i can feel when it happens. The shock and strange feelings still sting - perhaps not as much, but enough for me to question if i’m within my right to be irritated, and also whether to address the person or to sashay away.
Perhaps it’s my own fault for being such a lone horse on this journey running my businesses over the last 8 years, and being crap at “networking” or sharing my stuff with the world in order to get opportunities that could probably help me out a lot. Those who have carbon copied something i created, tend to have a shameless pride and shout loudly. Which means they can network their heart out (sidenote, networking, at least my experience of it, makes my insides fall out), and they seem to be reaping a world of benefits and it hurts…(a projection perhaps, cause can you be happy building your life on someone else?). But i can’t be that way...i don’t want to be that way….but i want to try to give myself a chance at reaching the right people who want to support my work.
Real community over competition
Look, this isn’t a whinge, cause you know that i’m ALL about sharing generously so that we can ALL do well, lifting each other up as we go. Perhaps i am too open with all that stuff when they question me about intimate details, cause you know, when it’s happened, even though i’ve been a bit taken aback (remnants of those British-heavy customs practiced in avoiding small talk about salaries, for example) and despite feeling a little uncomfortable, i would still lay myself down so vultures might pick. And pick they did.
...Is this becoming dramatic? I don’t know. I guess it FELT dramatic at the time. Cause i felt like my udders were shrivelled and shrunken, tired and, well, used. Cause at the risk of sounding like i do stuff simply to get something back, i will defend my empty milk sacs and say that i would expect not to be chewed up and spat out afterwards, cause what follows the interaction of copycatting tends to be a weird distancing that shows itself as an imagined rivalry.
Suddenly the people that copycatted treat me as their competitor. A rival. And that hurts. A lot. A whole lot. Because, again, at the risk of being read as a naive idealist, i do not see other folks as competitors. I just don’t. Yeah, i’m that person. But really, truly, that’s how i feel. I just don’t understand it. To me, there is space for everyone. For all of us. And i’ve always felt that way. Even when people have told me repeatedly i’d never make it, for example as a yoga teacher in whatever country i moved, cause “there’s already loads of teachers” - my response is “yes, and that’s great! The more the merrier!” Surely, we can all win and improve simply by treating each other with respect and learning and sharing...can’t we?
🔸Is it a pipe dream? Tosh? I’d love to know what you think.
All i know is that for a long time i’ve felt wounded by my experience with copycats. Not so much by the seemingly harmless basicness of being that unimaginative, to want to copy someone else’s hard graft and pass it off as your own... But moreso wounded by the reactions by those folks. The belief that they are somehow entitled to do it because everything is up for grabs.
What’s been unsettling in my experience, is that copycats usually come under the guise of friendliness, and during times in my life when i’ve felt deeply lonely, i’ve not known if people were being true. The fake smiles as they insert their straw, then discarding it when they’ve taken what they wanted..
🔸 Is it the age we’re living in?
🔸 Is it normal (what is normal?) to expect to lift stuff and pass it off as your own?
This isn’t some “oh look at how popular or good i am” tact - i mean, who would really want someone to copycat their life?
The bigger picture?
Copycat culture feels rife.
An example of this is some lifestyle bloggers that are being labelled influencers, who share a version of a similar mass mainstream aesthetic, looking to each other to stay relevant. There’s a pattern in how this rhetoric spills down as the new “digital” marketing model from many brands to consumers.
The message: Be told what is accepted to be true or right, then go out and copy it so you too, can fit in.
Capitalism needs that. For folks to be the same, or to feel the urgency to be like somebody else right, cause it’s a fundamental human need, isn't it, to belong? Back in the days, we relied on being accepted in a tribe for our survival so we weren’t gobbled up by predators (hah!). And one of the ways we were allowed to be part of a group was to fit in. Unthreatening in our similarity.
But i can’t help but wonder (thanks Carrie), as long as copycat culture is accepted and even rewarded, will this be the standard moving forward?
Are we destined to celebrate copycatting and regurgitating like an infinite Windows error message?
Plagiarism and power
Before the internet, copycatting would take effort. Plagiarism was more difficult to detect. More time and energy was involved.
I wonder if we are living in a time where the implications of plagiarism aren’t taken seriously?
I remember going to law seminars in the very early 00s and lecturers being a bit baffled as to what to teach us regarding “new media technologies” as the ground was being remodelled under our feet. The internet was seen as “the wild west”. Everything was new. Laws hadn’t caught up, the effects of which we are still seeing, and things were, well, complicated with regards to copyright and even what constituted as copying.
I know it was a long time ago now, but there were modules dedicated to plagiarism at school too. Learning how to cite correctly, depending on the medium. And if that wasn’t adhered to, there were consequences - expulsion.
What happens in the real world? In journalism, folks have been fired when (finally) caught, but many get away with it, so what does that tell us?
That it depends who you are, right?
Cause a lot of this is about power. Like so much of the world, eh?
If you have power, you are able to do as you please.
You can afford loopholes. Are afforded freedom.
Am i going in too deep?
Cause i’m using examples from my life to ask bigger questions. Not to woe you out. And i want us all to feel free. To talk about this and how it affects us as individuals and as a community.
Social sharing, intimacy and the case for the greater good
Where do we draw the line? I mean, sharing is something most of us are doing on the daily. I always make the effort to research and reference my sources, whether online or in real life. But know it’s not the case for everyone, as some feel that the information is out there so why bother? And realise this can open up a can of worms. Reposting something on Instagram for example. Some argue that it’s a free for all. I strongly disagree with this, however see that although i share and credit where i can, what about the music videos i share for example? Who should be credited? The artist? The director? The producer? The set designer? I know, perhaps i’m taking this too far, but want to explore this and try to get clearer so i’m not doing harm to someone else.
Sometimes, when sharing something, not all sources are available. And even when crediting sources, who “wins”? ...Not that it’s about winning. Let me rephrase. Who profits? The app? The shareholders of Facebook? The influencer who regurgitated someone else’s work?
How deep do we drill, darlings?
And what about my DJ sets? Or curated playlists of music which i haven’t made? ...Ok music stuff gets a bit weird cause tbh i’m in the camp of “it’s just music” but know there’s a LOT of djs out there that get really weird and snooty about hiding what they play. Yoga teachers too. Sure i try hard to create unique sets but i don’t feel weird about that (depending on the person copying and what their intentions are). Is that at the heart of things? The intention?
In the age of social sharing and intimacy shared online, should we expect that copycatters will always exist , especially when vulnerability is one of many things being seen as valuable for “brands”?
Perhaps this isn’t bad either, eh? Cause amplifying important topics, especially ones that have been deemed “taboo” can be helpful to humanity, right? Look at how much more conversation there is about mental health for example.
Anxiety! I remember trawling copious self help departments at libraries in 1998, trying to find any document on the subject of panic attacks so i could learn what this debilitating invisible illness was, and how the hell i could heal from it. -Shoutout to MK library for having one imported text from the States cause there wasn’t the equivalent research in the UK as it was “so new”. Wild. But i fear i’m going off topic. But it illustrates a point, i think (bear with me!)
….i’m not mad at something INSPIRED. I’m concerned and a bit fed up with IMITATION.
“Often imitated, never duplicated” - Da Brat, Mariah Carey, Heartbreaker (Remix) feat. Missy Elliot
Have you confronted a copycat?
On one occasion, because it was a former friend. I know. Emphasis on former. But at the time, i gave them the benefit of the doubt. I was kind and respectful asf, and didn’t publicly shame them, as much as those fantasies played out in my head. And they retaliated with deep hostility. Was flippant that they couldn’t even remember taking it as they had books of text they had copied from other people. I mean… Wha---?!
So, moral of the story? I’m still working on it. Oh and that person? Years later, they went out of business. They couldn’t keep up with being someone else i guess...Or maybe they just moved on to someone else...
For now, my reaction to copycats tends to be muteness - i go into a bit of shock, which later reveals itself as hurt. This period tends to affect my work. I go quiet cause i feel weird. It’s pretty unproductive all round.
🔸 How does one deal with copycats?
Some have blamed me for being “too open”. “Why do you tell them or share your “secrets”? “Why don’t you withhold the information?” They ask.
I mean, perhaps they have a point.
But i have never understood that point in withholding something if it can help someone.
Even though it has bit me on the butt too many times to recall.
It’s been a bit creepy at times, imitating the way i speak (i mean, who would even want that?!) Like you, i’m wondering why would anyone even want to do that? I mean...cringe. And i haven’t discussed the full weird extent of some of the strange shit that’s gone down. (Cause i know a few will be reading this. Hi, by the way... )
I’ve wondered if it’s my own fault. Giving so much of myself and making a business that is so connected to who i am. The things i share are personal. Part of my life. And my own journey of growth, experience, studies, research- they are all entwined, adapted and shared as offerings so that others might be able to also adapt and implement them into their own lives.
So yeah, sometimes i blame myself. And some others people blame me too. For being too open. For putting stuff out there. Yet is it strange to say that what i share is only a tiny facet upon the surface?
Still, i recognise that by putting anything out there i’m kind of asking for it. But what is life (Haddaway) if we aren’t putting ourselves out there? I’m not talking about laying it all down when you don’t feel comfortable to, i mean, we all need to engage with society in some way, right? Should we be scared to do so in case we get burned?
It’s worrying and sad to consider withholding our authentic selves due to our fear of being copied.
🔸 So should we expect copycatting? Well, deception really? I mean, have you seen the movie and series Catfish? I don’t want to scare you...but we have to be real, i mean, that’s the whole turnip right?
I know i want to keep being real, showing up for the people that find my work useful, despite copycats.
So for those of you who might be feeling this or going through it, try not to be put off by copycats, really, it’s a weird compliment. Let it spur you on and remind you that you must be doing something right. It’s still hard for me to swallow the copycatting, but... so it goes.
I’ve (too kindly) called out a couple of people along the way, but mainly distanced myself from those who don’t make me feel good, and i think that’s really at the heart of this stuff: Keep your attention focussed on the things you are doing and creating. Your energy is precious and deserves to go towards making the things you want to see in the world, rather than getting caught up in the wrenching angst of why someone is copycatting you.
We need you showing up in this world with your bad self. Yes!
So what do you think?
Any murmerings? Ideas? Experiences?
Have you been copycatted? Are you a copycatter that has a different take?
Would love to know anything and everything in the comments below.
Let’s keep the conversation going!
Love, dionne x
PS if you’re interested in digging into my advice and my learning moments experiencing copycats, you might fancy listening this episode of my podcast !